Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Koreshan Unity Settlement

Strange, very strange. Most of the people here in Florida come from somewhere else and we all have a story - but the story of the Koreshan Settlement is stranger than most. Cyrus Teed moved his followers from cold, windy Chicago to hot, humid Estero (just south of Fort Myers) in 1894 to build New Jerusalem for his new faith, Koreshanity. The group believed that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere. Teed convinced them that he was the new Messiah and would never die. The business of the settlement was governed entirely by women .

As I see it, two things lead to the downfall of the commune: one, they were celibate; and, two: Teed died. The last of his followers left all of the structures and what remained of the property to the state. One of the original members is quoted as saying she realized Teed's doctrine was wrong when "those boys landed on the moon." This place is a strong statement to the religious freedom we have here in the U.S.

Johnny, forever a student, read the literature provided by the Koreshan Unity Alliance, Inc. and the College of Life Foundation before we began our tour. Since the site is owned by the state and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, I found church and state just a little too close for my liking.

The machine shop.

One of the houses on the property and Johnny, looking less than impressed.

Another home.

The best part of the park was the nature trail along the Estero River. The commune was interesting and I'm glad we went to visit - once.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Week

Christmas was a perfect day. Leaving Johnny to sleep in, Bill and I left the house early to watch the sun rise over Ft. Myers Beach. It could not have been more beautiful.

My idea of the best Christmas lights ever! Later in the day, Bill cooked a wonderful Christmas dinner - Peppered Standing Rib Roast with Cabernet au Jus, Yukon Gold Potatoes and fresh grilled asparagus. I made a mixed greens and apple salad to begin the meal and pumpkin pie and chocolate chip cookies to finish up. We invited our neighbor Lou to join us. Bill dirtied every dish in the house and I'm still cleaning up - but it was worth it! We ate outdoors on the lanai, relaxed and enjoyed every second.

It is especially nice to have son John here for the holidays. This picture was taken at Corkscrew Swamp where John got up close and personal with a brown leaf grasshopper.

John had never seen a Green Heron before - and this guy was just beautiful! The sun lit-up the colors on his back. I enlarged one of the pictures I took and hung it on the wall in Johnny's room.

No trip to Ft. Myers is complete without going over the Caloosahatchee River Bridge to Cape Coral to see the Burrowing Owls. John agreed that these diminutive little birds are especially adorable. He took pictures with his camera phone and sent them to his friends before we went to Ariels for a seafood dinner.

These are just some of the shells I have collected on the beach. I learned that if there is the tiniest bit of animal matter left inside the shell - they soon begin to stink. See that pretty little tulip on top? It's now outside soaking in a bleach solution.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Playing Catch-up

My sister Beth and her husband Warren left Fort Myers Beach early this morning. They are heading to Charlotte NC to spend the holidays with their daughter and reunite Warren with his two beloved cats, George and Chaney.

While they were here, we kept very busy visiting the Everglades, Cape Coral, Six-Mile Cypress Slough, Harns Marsh, Little Estero, Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp, Naples, the Ding Darling National Preserve (twice); enjoying the sun and surf on the Fort Myers beach by their apartment; and, shelling on Sanibel and Lover's Key (twice). We enjoyed Bill's cooking, eating till we could eat no more; talked non-stop, laughed till we cried, walked the trails, beaches and boardwalks till our legs, backs and bladders gave-out and shared the wonders of this beautiful area. Beth saw her first ever Manatees at Lover's Key, Burrowing "They are so-o-o adorable" Owls on Cape Coral, Apple Kites and a Limpkin at Harns Marsh, plovers at Estero and Sandhill Cranes near Corkscrew. It was a wonderful time, but we've been so busy that I am way behind in my blogging.

An especially beautiful Tricolored Heron. There are three major types of blue-colored herons; Great Blue, standing over 4-feet tall; Little Blue, at a little over 2-feet; and Tricolored, which are about the same size as the Little Blues.

This Snowy Egret was standing by the edge of the water at Ding Darling waiting for some small fish to swim by. The common white birds include the small Cattle, yellow-footed Snowy and the large, graceful Great Egret.

On Sunday, we arrived at Ding Darling when the gates opened at 7 a.m. The White Pelicans were actually moving around looking for food instead of sleeping and preening like they are usually doing when we do the nature trail later in the day. This one stopped long enough that I could get his picture.

Beth and I decided these were Lesser Yellowlegs - because, obviously, they have yellow legs. Neither of us noticed them on the sandbar with the pelicans until we checked our pictures later.

Our favorite birds - Roseate Spoonbills. This is a breeding adult (with the red on his/her wings) and four fluffy juveniles. They look like they are smiling!

One of the youngsters. Look at that bill!

There were quite a few Blue-winged Teal swimming around looking for food. The bird in the middle is another Yellowleg.

I'm still not exactly sure what this is. He was sitting in a tree with two adult Great (white) Egrets - but the juveniles look like their parents - so I ruled that out. He was smaller than the other two birds - and all white. I decided he is an immature Little Blue Heron - but would happily consider other suggestions.

After a couple of hours on the wildlife drive at Ding Darling, Beth and I went to Bowman's Beach on Sanibel to do some power shelling. Since I had my camera, I took a picture of the Willet playing in the surf. The shelling started slowly, but picked up as we headed up the beach. We found very colorful specimens - mostly bi-valves. My bucket was about half-full of shells when we headed back over the causeway towards Ft. Myers Beach.

These Roseate Spoonbills were at Lover's Key. We got there early on two mornings and found buckets of wonderful shells. Even thought Sanibel is more famous for shelling - we both agree that there is better shelling at Lover's Key - especially early in the morning when the tide is low and the moon is new.

The Spoonbills feed in shallow water by wading and moving their open bills back and forth. They enjoy small fish, shells and insects.

One rainy afternoon while Beth and Warren were getting caught up on chores at their apartment, Bill and I ventured out - between the raindrops to walk the trail at Six-Mile Cypress Slough.

This youngster was swimming near the outlook on the main lake. I took lots of pictures as I had little clue what he was! My first thought: immature Pied-billed Grebe - but there were no adults around.

He was swimming with two adult coot when we began our walk and was still with them when we returned later. I checked my books and, sure enough, the immature coot look very different than their parents. If I had seen his feet, that would have made the identification definite as coot do not have the duck-like webbed feet - but the heron-like 3-toes.

It's always a good day when I get to see a Pileated Woodpecker!

This is Bill's favorite picture - adult alligators. There is nothing more I can say!

Yesterday, Jet Blue carried my son John away from the snow and cold in New York City to sunny (but chilly) Ft. Myers. We picked him up at 7 p.m. He's here for the holidays but I'm letting him sleep in this morning before beginning another set of adventures. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary - Day of the Hawks

Last Wednesday (yes, I'm behind in my blogs) Beth, Warren, Bill and I headed out early to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, managed by the National Audubon Society. Bill and I are members - so it is a "must" visit for all of our visitors, friends and family. It was not difficult to talk them into going - it was Beth and Warren who first introduced us to Corkscrew this time last year.

Early on our walk on the boardwalk, we encountered this Red-shouldered Hawk sitting on the railing just ahead of us.

We saw several more along the way...

Just look at those markings! Isn't he beautiful!

Bill took this picture of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron while I scurried back to the information center to use the restroom. During the breeding season, the top of his head will be yellow instead of white.

One of the things I really like about Corkscrew are the naturalists who walk the boardwalk and point out things of interest and help with identification. It was one of these volunteers who identified this as a Great Crested Flycatcher.

Another shot of the Flycatcher.

The swamp is a peaceful place to walk - so beautiful and full of life. There is no such thing as a dead tree stump because other life forms quickly take it over. These are Resurrection Ferns.

A Great (white) Egret hunting in the Alligator Flags.

Usually the moths and butterflies do not stay still long enough for me to take their picture - but this one cooperated.

There were lots of little birds flitting around. It was just pure luck that I actually got a picture of this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. The naturalists named several other birds in the area - including some Warblers, but I did not get pictures and I would not recognize them again. I need them to sit for awhile so I can study their markings - but that doesn't happen.

Like my previous visits to Corkscrew, I am captivated by the air-plants. They attached to the trees - but do not hurt the trees. They get all of their nourishment from the air and rain and just use the tree as an anchor.

We see lots and lots of brown anoles - but Warren spotted this bright green anole by the side of the boardwalk.

Bill took this picture of a stink bug. Yuck!

After visiting Corkscrew, we took Beth and Warren to the Naples Pier to see the boats.

One of the many resident Brown Pelicans.

I'm hurrying to finish this entry as Beth and I are taking one last trip before they leave tomorrow. We are going shelling at Lover's Key. We've been to Harns Marsh, Sanibel, Ding Darling and Fort Myers Beach and I have more pictures to share. Maybe later - but now I gotta go!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Birding with My Sister

It's so nice to have my sister, Beth, and her impish husband, Warren, in town! I wish they could stay, but since they head north to Kure Beach, NC next week, we've been busy checking places off our "must see, must do" list.

On Tuesday, Beth and I left the boys to do their own things and we checked out the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area at the southern tip of Fort Myers Beach before crossing over the bridge and going shelling at Lover's Key. I took great pictures of several Plovers (Killdeer, Semipalmated, Wilson's), a gorgeous Reddish Egret and colorful Tri-colored Heron and a group of Mottled Ducks - but Beth got the same (and better) pictures so let's all take a short break while you check out her blog at - but please come back when you are finished!

This big homely gull was standing at the shoreline. If you look closely at the picture, you will see he is making a strong statement about his opinion of me taking his picture! Beth and I were not sure about his identity - but after checking my books, I think he is an immature Ring-billed Gull. Let's see if my sister agrees.

The dolphins were playing in the waves and chasing the fish right up to the shoreline. They attracted quite a crowd and some of the on-lookers were close enough that I think they could have reached out and petted them!

After a quick lunch at Beth's, we headed over to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.

We saw lots of beautiful White Pelicans out on a sand bar. They were closer than usual - so I was able to get better pictures.

They are larger than their brown cousins.

This Snowy Egret was standing by a bridge just begging to have his picture taken. I was taken at just how bright yellow his eye, the back of his legs and his feet are.

Look at that color! It looks like he stepped in Caterpillar (the tractor, not the bug) yellow paint. The yellow stripped legs and bright yellow feet are the key in identifying a Snowy Egret.

These are Blue-winged Teal - the first time I have photographed and identified them. The male (to the right) has a white crescent in front of his eye. Back towards his tail, you can see a spot of the blue that gives him his name.

Raccoons are a common sighting at "Ding." This one is a baby who was following his mama along the side of the road.

After collecting the boys, we all went over to Cape Coral to hunt for Burrowing Owls. Beth read "Hoot" and wanted to see the diminutive owls for herself. Bill quickly found a couple sitting by their burrow and we got lots of pictures. They are so adorable! (Every time Beth or I say this, Bill and Warren mock us.)

Our day ended with a delicious dinner at Ariels Seafood Restaurant. Later, I'll post pictures from our Wednesday trip to Corkscrew.